I thank the Chairman and committee members for having us both today. By way of introduction, I am the senior policy adviser for the Confederation of British Industry, CBI, in Northern Ireland. I lead on all matters related to the Northern Ireland protocol and on the wider trade implications of Brexit that are peculiar to Northern Ireland.
I appreciate that Mr. Connolly has spent some time outlining the position of the Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group. CBI is a part of that group. There are more than 12 trade bodies and business organisations that very much agree with and are in accord with the high-level messages. Today I am content to speak to the wider generalities and wider issues we face concerning trade in and through Northern Ireland since the transition period ended, but I want our conversation today to focus on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications across the common travel area. Given the complexity of the implementation of the protocol and the wider trade and co-operation agreement, TCA, I want to put on record on behalf of CBI its appreciation for the work this committee has done on continuing to examine the outworkings of the UK's exit from the EU.
Much is like what Mr. Connolly has said in that, as we approach 100 days into the new arrangements, our members report that trade has been moving reasonably well and those concerned are increasingly getting to grips with the new administrative requirements. It is important, however, that we acknowledge the efforts and work at all ends of the supply chain in the business sector, particularly over the Christmas period and against the background of Covid and the absence of a universal implementation period, to keep goods moving and to keep them moving reasonably well. That is a credit to everybody involved in the process.
I acknowledge, much as Mr. Connolly did, that the protocol was a political comprise with economic consequences. It is not perfect, which we acknowledge, but its drafting is such that there is a dynamic framework. That has to be given time to bed in. Time has to be given to understand the implications as and when they arise and to sort them in conjunction with business at the relevant times. I appreciate this formed part of the earlier discussion but we have seen there have been economic benefits across the island of Ireland in terms of trade, already demonstrated through the CSO figures, with imports to Northern Ireland from the Republic up 10%. Exports were up 17% in the month of January alone. That said, the protocol acknowledges Northern Ireland's place within the UK internal market and the importance of Great Britain and Northern Ireland's largest market. There have been challenges, especially with getting to grips with the at-risk test and how that interacts with the new rules of origin agreed in the trade and co-operation agreement and the various customs administration and regulatory burdens our businesses now face and to which they are trying to adapt. This is, of course, much better than a disorderly withdrawal, which should be acknowledged, but now is the time to focus on the solutions to the well-documented challenges and the barriers we face with Great Britain. I will be happy to talk through those in due course.
I want to put on the record today the implications for Northern Ireland of leaving the Single Market for services that are perhaps a little less well understood. To that end, I wish to focus on the specific issue of the ability of British and Irish professionals to exercise their right to work across the common travel area following the end of transition.
While we acknowledge that the protocol does protect the free movement of goods across the island of Ireland, it also seeks to uphold the common travel area, CTA, and to maintain the conditions necessary to support North-South co-operation. That is strand two of the Good Friday Agreement. These obligations are important when considering the limitations of the TCA in respect of the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, MRPQ. From installing equipment or clearing asbestos to providing professional advice or mending plane wings, many individuals who provide services by law or regulation require specific qualifications. For individuals to operate across on a cross-Border basis, either permanent establishment or temporary work, these qualifications must be recognised by national authorities.
Up until the end of transition, under free movement of services, British and Irish professionals benefited from an EU system of preferential recognition of qualifications, which simplified the process for professionals moving between member states on both a temporary and permanent basis. In many cases, the right of recognition was automatic. As a result, doctors, accountants, engineers, hauliers and up to 120 regulated professions have been able to exercise the rights to not just live but also exercise their chosen profession across any part of the CTA. However, the TCA has its shortcomings in this area because it does not support the continuation of MRPQ between the EU and the UK. Instead it provides a pathway for a regulator to regulate recognition in arrangements that mirror EU trade deals with the likes of Canada and Japan. It is important to note that neither of these countries has produced a mutual recognition agreement to date.
So what does this mean for MRPQ across the all-island economy and, more widely, the UK and Ireland. For the EU, the Commission's notice to stakeholders provides that UK nationals will be third-country nationals. As a result, the framework no longer applies to them. Recognition of professional qualifications of UK citizens in member states, including Ireland, will therefore be governed by the national policies and rules of that member state. As a result, we can foresee a myriad of bilaterals appearing over time between UK regulatory and professional bodies and their counterparts in other EU member states.
Meanwhile, the UK Government has implemented a temporary process for the recognition of professional qualifications of EEA and Swiss professionals, although this is not as comprehensive as the system that existed under the EU framework. Under this interim process, from 1 January 2021, UK regulatory bodies are obligated to consider applications for recognition from holders of EEA and Swiss professional qualifications but are only obligated to grant recognition to qualifications that are comparable with UK qualification requirements and standards in scope, level and content.
It should be acknowledged that the UK and Irish Governments have put a considerable amount of effort into encouraging regulators to regulate arrangements. In particular, the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, BEIS, has established a team to support and facilitate individual regulators in addressing the issues that have arisen with regard to MRPQ post-transition. A key driver of this is the acknowledgement in the memorandum of understanding underpinning the CTA signed up to by the UK and Irish Governments in 2019 that both governments acknowledge that MRPQ is an essential facilitator of the right to work across both jurisdictions. As a result, many of our regulated professions have in place arrangements for the continuation of mutual recognition, notwithstanding EU exit. It is our understanding that around ten arrangements on mutual recognition are in place currently between the respective regulators. However, as there are over 100 regulated professions in the UK, the crux of the issue and the reason we wanted to highlight it today is because we are concerned about a material risk of fragmentation over time.
As such, we would like an overarching reciprocal framework to be developed and agreed between the UK and Ireland to allow professionals to benefit from a clear and consistent route to recognition across the common travel area, as was the case before the end of the transition period.
A final point relating to the provisions of the protocol is that Article 11 of the protocol refers to supporting North-South co-operation. The importance of the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, MRPQ, was recognised in the joint mapping exercise on North-South co-operation. There are no fewer than six references to MRPQ facilitating numerous areas of North-South co-operation, including transport, health and higher education. The issues relating to mutual recognition of professional qualifications are complex. As it has been an issue only since 1 January, it will take time to fully understand the implications. However, we do not believe these issues are insurmountable. Positive outcomes can be delivered with the appropriate political will.